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WMNF program director Randy Wynne retires after 35 years

Bill DeYoung

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"I love doing my morning show," Randy Wynne says. "Today, I was playing everything from Etta James to Taylor Swift. It’s fun to be able to be creative and have that whole palette of music, from the middle of the 20th century up to now. And find different ways to present it so that it’s not what you can get on Spotify or Sirius."

When Randy Wynne got into radio, the 1960s were morphing into the ‘70s, and listeners were pulling away from the chatterbox of Top 40 and settling on lower-key “underground” FM stations, where “freeform” was the only rule and one rock album cut followed another, and genres like jazz, folk and bluegrass sometimes got equal time.

By 1985, when he joined Tampa’s WMNF as program director, commercial FM had already stagnated through advanced commercialism and the rise of consultant-based programming decisions. And WMNF, as a community-sponsored station, unbeholden to anyone with money, was right up his alley.

Wynne’s resignation as the station’s program director is effective today. Although he’ll stick around to helm his regular Monday morning show, and to help with the transition, at 69 he figures he’s done enough.

“When WMNF started in 1979, everybody who was running the station was in their 20s,” Wynne says. “That was 40 years ago – the staff, the volunteers and the listeners were in their 20s. And 40 years later, everybody’s grown up together.

“So I think it’s time to give way. I did a Facebook post about three months ago, and people got mad at me: ‘Millennials outnumber the Baby Boomers now, for the first time. And it’s time for the Baby Boomers to get out of the way.’ There’s a young generation that’s talented and ready to take charge.”

Because he loves WMNF, and holds its community-focused mission statement close to his heart, he believes more than anything that new blood is necessary to take the station into the future.

Many of the newest program hosts, he explains, are 20-somethings with eclectic tastes in music, who also care passionately about WMNF’s coverage of news and politics.

That includes Samantha Vhal, the incoming program director, who’s 26. “I have always said ‘If you can find somebody in their 20s who’s bright – get somebody on the way up, and you’ll have them for a while,’” explains Wynne.

“Some people thought she was too young and didn’t have the experience. But I think it’s courageous of the station, and I support it all the way.”

Wynne was considering retirement in 2020. Covid-19 exacerbated things. “For a while, it was just six or seven of us keeping the thing going,” he explains. “No volunteers were coming in. I was getting up at 3 every morning and coming in, and I actually didn’t mind that because I felt like there was a very special connection getting established during the real depths of the pandemic. I think people really needed something real, something human. So having a community-voiced station was really important.”

Volunteers are back now, doing their air shifts and leaving the premises immediately afterward. There are masks and gloves, and no hanging out is allowed.

“It all feels kind of uptight, you know? Which it needs to be, but it’s not as collegial. A lot of radio is bullshitting together – that’s where creativity happens, talking about music. That’s been missing.

“It just kind of feels like I’m at a crossroads. A new program review, a change thing, was coming up and I didn’t really want to deal with that. And I am going to be dealing with that – I’m helping the manager out, basically. And the new program director, who really couldn’t come in and create a schedule without knowing the station.”

And since WMNF’s legendary live events are on hold, Wynne – who organized and saw them through – feels another void with no relief in sight.

Still, he remains a tireless cheerleader for the station and the niche that it fills. “You can get all sorts of stuff on your computer or on your phone,” Wynne says. “What you really can’t get is your local community, and have a station that’s not only local, it’s very grassroots. In the sense that it’s people from the community. We play local music and do local news stories.

“And it’s also authentic, which I think is a big value these days, in the plasticized world that we’re in. Something where there’s real creativity that goes into all the programming.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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